Andreas Whittam Smith: A revolt against the ruling elite

For some years, the American electorate has been voting consistently against the party in power
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The Independent Online

A senior cleric in the Church of England this week compared the likely introduction of women bishops to the national situation in January 1939, when Britain was getting ready to repulse Hitler and the Nazis.

Insults are the weapons of choice in class and culture wars. This is why I take seriously the contempt that America's political opponents express for each other. The wounding comments that American politicians have been directing at each other during the midterm elections are symptomatic of a troubled body politic. Barack Obama certainly knows how to wound. Early in his presidency, he said that limited economic prospects and narrow social horizons produce "bitter" Americans who "cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like us". And then, the other day, he explained that "part of the reason that our politics seems so rough right now and that facts and science and argument do not seem to be winning the day all the time is because we're hardwired not to always think clearly when we are scared". In short, ordinary Americans are "bitter" and bigoted and not "always able to think clearly."

It is because of remarks such as these that the Republican John Boehner, who will be the next Speaker of the House of Representatives, was able to say recently that Washington had been "disrespecting the American people".

I emphasise these de haut en bas comments because in their patronising way, they are probably more distressing than the notorious remarks attributed to, say, Glenn Beck, the conservative talk show host, and others like him. Mr Beck said of Mr Obama recently that he had repeatedly shown a deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture.

For some years, the American electorate has been voting consistently against the party in power. Mr Obama is the third president in succession to lose control of the House of Representatives at the halfway point. More than 70 per cent of Republicans embrace the Tea Party, but the feeling is not reciprocated. If conservatives could vote for the Tea Party as a party, they would prefer it to the Republicans.

In his book published earlier this year, The Ruling Class: how they corrupted America and what we can do about it, Professor Angelo Codevilla, who teaches at Boston and Stanford, writes: "Our rulers, both Democrats and Republicans, gladden the hearts of some one-third of the electorate – most Democratic voters plus a few Republicans". This Ruling Class, he adds, has a party: the Democrats. It is where you find Harvard graduates (such as the President), Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, the Hollywood crowd and media types. Professor Codevilla argues that the first tenet of the Ruling Class is that its members are the best and brightest, while the rest of Americans are retrograde, racist and dysfunctional unless properly constrained.

The Tea Party movement provides a refuge. It is, Professor Codevilla says, the most obvious evidence of the American people's desire to be responsible for their own lives. It joins together Independents, Republicans and not a few Democrats into what Professor Codevilla calls the Country Class. It may be defined by its lack of connection with government and attitudes opposite to those of the Ruling Class. Its most distinguishing characteristics are marriage, children, and religious practice.

On Tuesday night, the exit polls showed a strong majority agreed with the statement "government is doing too many things better left to businesses and individuals". Here is the very essence of what troubles the United States. It is the Ins versus the Outs, the Governing Class against the rest, the liberal establishment versus the proles.

Jon Stewart, of The Daily Show, described last weekend's Washington rally as one which would not: "Ridicule people of faith, or people of activism, or look down our noses at the heartland, or passionate argument, or to suggest that times are not difficult and that we have nothing to fear. They are, and we do. But we live now in hard times, not end times. And we can have animus, and not be enemies." Here is hope.